A Man Walks into a Bar

Fog shrouded downtown in the early morning. Buildings huddled beneath it, their upper stories hidden by mist. Somewhere over the water I could hear the industrial park clank and groan, but I couldn’t see it. I shoved my hands in my pockets and shuffled down to the pub.

I slid up to the empty counter and glanced at the clock. I checked my watch; a little automatic I bought for work. It had already dropped time. I popped out the crown and reset it. A few minutes after nine. The bartender came down to where I sat.

“Can I start you off with . . . a drink?”

She wore a look of vague apprehension. She was a perky little thing. Barely twenty one. She started to reach for a glass. I offered a crooked little smirk and pulled my hat off.

“Coffee,” I croaked. “Black, two sugars.”

The back of my head ached. A dull throbbing from three pots of coffee the day before. She came back with a mug. I asked her for a pair of scissors. She looked at the festive green band on my wrist.

“Where did you go last night?”

“The ER,” I deadpanned.

Her face scrunched up. She looked at me over the bar, waiting on my lead.

“. . . You should see the other guy,” I sneered. I took a sip of my coffee. “Just kidding.”

“Oh! Thank God . . . Fighting is bad . . . “

“Fighting is great. I’d rather that were the reason.”

I sliced the little band off my wrist and looked at the tag. The clerk at the counter had been reading directly off my ID and still managed to get my information wrong. I folded it in half and tucked it into my shirt pocket. I ordered breakfast and half paid attention to the TV while I waited.

I caught a glimpse of myself in the back-bar mirror. I scooted my stool a foot to the left. The last five years have not done wonders for my face.

Subtle lines run from all corners. There are crow’s feet from squinting; more prominent on my left eye than my right. Souvenir of my frustration. Saturday morning shadow outlined my jaw in the harsh light reflecting off the bar lacquer. I looked like I needed a drink at nine AM.

When a man walks into a bar, he carries the weight of his entire life on his shoulders. All the mistakes he’s ever made, and all of his regrets. His eyes are tired. His face throws long shadows. His hand lays heavy on his glass.

A man walks into a bar because the wood is sturdy. He rests his elbows on it, and for a while it carries his weight. He prefers the lighting dim so that he need not shield his eyes. He prefers the music not be too loud to hear his own thoughts. He gets lost in them a while.

He can choose to talk. Or not. Some want cold beer and conversation. Others want to wash their memories clean, to be Baptized of their sins. The hangover that follows will not be enough to stop a man from returning to that safe harbor when the weight grows heavy once more.

The bartender brought me the check.

I pulled my hat down over my eyes and headed for the exit.